Honing a Masterpiece

Constant care keeps the code at its best

January 1, 2007

All of us will likely appreciate NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® President Pat Vredevoogd Combs’s metaphorical reference to the membership—a “beautifully diverse mosaic of proud professionalism and consumer protection and service”—in her introduction to the 2007 Code of Ethics in this issue.

Like Georges Seurat’s pointilist painting, our REALTOR® Code of Ethics is a masterpiece. But unlike most paintings or musical masterworks, the Code is constantly reviewed, refined, and improved. Ongoing scrutiny and enhancement are the only ways to ensure it anticipates and addresses the emerging issues and concerns that inevitably arise in our constantly changing real estate world.

Some REALTORS® have questioned whether our Code, adopted nearly a century ago, does, or even can, remain meaningful in the Internet era. I believe—and your NAR Professional Standards Committee believes—that the Code of Ethics should, must, and will remain our pathway to professionalism and performance for years to come.

There are many changes to the Code of Ethics for 2007. Several relate to how we conduct our businesses and ourselves online.

The Preamble now tells us that we follow the Code in all of our activities “whether conducted personally, through associates or others, or via technological means.” Standard of Practice 1-2 was also amended to parallel the Preamble’s enhancement and to ensure there’s no question that the Code governs our real estate activities conducted electronically.

Two new case interpretations explain how Article 6, which requires disclosure of fees and financial benefits REALTORS® may receive as a direct result of recommending real estate products or services to consumers, applies in the online world. The case interpretations also distinguish between advertisements and actual recommendations or endorsements.

The first case concludes that the mere presence of advertisements of real estate–related products and services offered by third parties on a REALTOR®’s Web site doesn’t constitute, in and of itself, an endorsement. The second case makes the point that describing third-party vendors’ products or services advertised on practitioner Web sites as “preferred” constitutes a recommendation or endorsement. This distinction is important since Article 6 requires disclosure of any financial benefit or fee we receive as a direct result of having recommended products and services.

A new Standard of Practice relating to Article 12 (which requires a true picture in advertising) as well as several amendments to other Standards of Practice will ensure that:

  • The names of REALTORS®’ companies are disclosed in our ads—regardless of the medium.
  • Our Web sites (including those operated by licensees affiliated with REALTORS®) disclose the name of our companies and the licensees’ state(s) of licensure.
  • Reasonable efforts are made to keep information on our Web sites current and accurate.
  • Consumers are informed if we intend to share or sell their information that we gather using the Internet.
  • Our Web sites don’t use deceptive or unauthorized framing practices; don’t manipulate listing content to produce deceptive or misleading results; and don’t use metatags, keywords, or other methods or devices to misdirect or divert Internet traffic or to otherwise deceive consumers.

Like an artist creating a masterpiece, there are always ways to improve. But our masterpiece, our Code of Ethics, is a living document that can, must, and will get even better as it gets older. As your 2007 Professional Standards chair, it’s my sincere privilege and honor to play a part in that ongoing effort.

Judie McConville, GRI, is the broker-manager of the Ottawa, Ill., office of Coldwell Banker Honig-Bell and was its previous owner. She served as the 2000 President of the Illinois Association of REALTORS® and was recognized as 2006 Illinois REALTOR® of the Year. She’s also served as a national director of NAR for many years.